The Old Preacher's Sermon Pages
He would want me to remind you…
In Marilynne Robinson's beautiful novel Gilead, the old preacher John Ames starts digging through a box of sermons in his attic. One day he figures out that he's filled 67,600 pages with his sermons, the equivalent of 225 books. He wrote, "There is not a word in any of those sermons I didn't mean when I wrote it. If I had the time, I could read my way through fifty years of my innermost life. What a terrible thought." Ames’ life is described as a man who is a preacher, the son of a preacher and the grandson (both maternal and paternal) of preachers. It’s 1956 in Gilead, Iowa, towards the end of pastor Ames’s life, and he is absorbed in recording his family’s story, a legacy for the young son he will never see grow up. Haunted by his grandfather’s presence, John tells of the rift between his grandfather and his father: the elder, an angry visionary who fought for the abolitionist cause, and his son, an ardent pacifist. He is troubled, too, by his prodigal namesake, Jack (John Ames) Boughton, his best friend’s lost son who returns to Gilead searching for forgiveness and redemption. Gilead has been described as a song of celebration and acceptance of the best and the worst the world has to offer. At its heart is a tale of the sacred bonds between fathers and sons.
As Ames continues reflecting on his sermons he says, “I had a dream once that I was preaching to Jesus Himself, saying any foolish thing I could think of, and He was sitting there in His white, white robe looking patient and sad and amazed. That's what it felt like. Well, perhaps I can get a box of them down here somehow and do a little sorting. It would put my mind at ease to feel I was leaving a better impression. So often I have known, right here in the pulpit, even as I read these words, how far they fell short of any hopes I had for them. And they were the major work of my life, from a certain point of view. I have to wonder how I have lived with that.” One of the reasons that preachers need to pray is because of the inadequacy of our words. Apart from God, our words will fall short of their goal. It's good and healthy to realize this. The power in preaching, or in any form of Christian ministry, for that matter, must ultimately rest in the power of God through his Spirit.
As I think ahead of my own retirement, in some eighteen months from now, I realize how many volumes of sermon pages, I too, have written. I don't expect anyone to read 45 years of sermons, devotionals and articles when I retire. However, maybe, if I can condense the pile of pages to my 10 best, I might get a few people to consider reading them. Every seven seconds a baby boomer retires, about 10,000 a day. That is the pace of potential retirement taking place every day since January 1, 2011. And the pace will continue until the end of 2029. A lot of baby boomer pastors are retiring. I will be one of those sooner, rather than later. Pastors are told to feed the church of God. [I Peter 5:2] That of course is the word "to pastor", to care for the church of God. This is our great mandate, our assignment, our calling. It’s been the one and only thing in my life, for the last 43 years, I have wanted to do or be interested in.
The Baptist Pastor George Truett said, "If anything happened that I couldn’t be pastor of the church, I’d go up to the head of the hollow and I’d organize me a church and be its pastor.” I love the thought; I loved reading his words when he avowed it. I felt the repercussion in my own soul. To pastor a church, to tend a flock, to shepherd God’s redeemed people, it is a beautiful and Heavenly assignment. This is a God-given calling and a God-given ministry: to shepherd, to feed, to tend the church of Christ. To my Highland family, it has been my privilege and honor to serve you, as you continue to affirm that God is good, good all the time! I love you.
He would want me to remind you. Think about it. Amen.